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Gaiman and Palmer read, rock and talk

Courtesy of MCT

When it was first announced that Neil Gaiman and his musician wife, Amanda Palmer, would be performing in a string of small theaters on the West Coast, the San Francisco event sold out so quickly that they decided to put on a second show, which took place on Wednesday evening. It was, appropriately, Day of the Dead-themed.

The set list consisted of a mix of poetry and prose by Gaiman, music by Palmer, group acts (in which Gaiman sang) with their opening band, The Jane Austen Argument and a question-and-answer session that saw Gaiman and Palmer field audience questions from submitted cue cards. It was not quite a reading and not quite a rock concert, but it was spellbinding, and the audience cheered in spades.

Palmer played a wide range of touching, inspiring and laughter-inducing songs, including her well-known “Ukulele Anthem,” a defiantly cheerful piece that had recently been adopted, she explained, as an unofficial theme song of the “Occupy” movement. (She has performed the song at “Occupy Wall Street,” “Occupy Boston” and most recently, “Occupy San Francisco.”) She also performed the bittersweet ballad “Dear Old House That I Grew Up In,” a love song to her childhood home, inspired by the news that her parents were planning to sell their house. Her other pieces included more conventional love songs–though none of her music is what one might call conventional–a number from the musical “Cabaret,” in which Palmer performed with the American Repertory Theater last autumn, and the now-famous “Gaga Palmer Madonna,” originally a song composed for the blogosphere detailing her views on women in contemporary music.

Gaiman’s set list included several poems, such as one he’d written as a present for Palmer, a beautiful list that read like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love thee,” updated for the 21st century. The cornerstone of his performance, however, was a piece entitled “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire,” a short story from his anthology “Fragile Things.” He described it as a collaboration with his 20-something-year-old self, a story that he had written, gotten indifferent reactions to and shelved early in his career, only to come back to it several decades later and decide that it was worth polishing up for publication. (He also insisted that he’d shortened the title; the original was even longer.) It was, Gaiman said, a sort of reflection on the place of fantasy and science-fiction in the literary world, and an admonition to write what you love, rather than what you are told you should write.

They sat down briefly to answer questions from the audience, written out on a stack of neon-colored cue cards. Many of the questions revolved around the nature of their relationship (they wed in January), in response to which they told some humorous anecdotes and dispensed pithy, accurate advice, such as “get good at fighting,” to the great amusement of the audience. Their wit and good-natured ribbing kept the conversation cozy throughout, as though they were speaking to friends as opposed to a theater. It was a refreshing change from the rock concerts Palmer usually plays and the massive crowds Gaiman’s readings usually draw, and a good time was had by all.

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